For many in the United States on July 4, watching a fireworks show after barbequing with family and friends is the perfect way to end the day's celebration. The dazzling bursts and the artistic display of red, white and blue lights evokes a sense of patriotism on America’s Independence Day.
Yet due to lingering supply chain disruptions, the skies of quite a few cities will stay dark for a third consecutive year since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Arizona’s capital city, Phoenix, canceled three of its fireworks shows this year because it couldn’t get enough fireworks in time.
“Unfortunately, much like many other municipalities, Phoenix has been affected by the ongoing supply chain issues. The city's contractor was unable to secure fireworks for the events," the city’s Parks and Recreation Department said.
In Ottawa, Kansas, city officials ordered the fireworks in February, yet they are still stuck on a ship from China. As a result, the residents there will be enjoying a fireworks show two months later, on Labor Day, instead of on the Fourth of July.
“We’ve seen a supply chain disruption, we have seen a lack of access to ports,” Larry Farnsworth, a representative for the National Fireworks Association, told VOA Mandarin.
“Shipping costs are a concern. I will give you the example of one volume importer, who imports 200 to 250 containers a season. In 2019, it cost about $9,800 a container, this year it has skyrocketed to about $36,000,” he added.
China produces most of the fireworks used in the United States. According to the National Pyrotechnics Association, China provides around 70% of the professional-grade fireworks used in fireworks shows. For commercial products, such as sparklers and bottle rockets, that percentage goes up to 94%, according to Forbes.
In April and May of this year, China has imposed strict COVID-19 lockdowns in many cities, including Shanghai, causing severe delays in the global supply chain. Export goods are piling up at ports as shipping rates skyrocket and labor shortages continue. In addition, the Ukraine crisis has pushed up oil prices, making the already high shipping cost even higher.
“Think about what we have gone through over the last 28 months in supply chain disruption, I would consider that the equivalent of Great Chilean earthquake, which is one of the most profound earthquakes on the planet,” said Nick Vyas, an associate professor of operations and a supply chain expert at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.
“The disruption we saw (in supply chain) is equivalent of that. There is still lingering effects of that disruption and it’s been felt by various industries. The fireworks industry is no different,” he added.
For other cities, the reason for cancellation is staffing shortages.
In Fairfax, VA, the city’s fireworks show was pushed to July 5th.
“Fairfax city’s fireworks vendor canceled our show due to a lack of qualified pyrotechnicians. We contracted with a new vendor and moved the show to July 5,” Matthew Kaiser, communications director of city government, told VOA in an email.
“We’re confident that our show will be as spectacular as ever,” he added.
“To be a professional pyrotechnician and shoot the professional show, you are the person,” Larry Farnsworth from the National Fireworks Association said.
One must receive professional training, clearance with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and to get the product and drive them to the shoot site one also needs to keep a commercial driver’s license to handle hazardous materials.
Shows kept getting canceled over the past two years because of the global pandemic, “so many people stop keeping up with their certifications,” Farnsworth said.
For some western cities, the concern is the threat of wildfire.
In California, a popular northern San Joaquin Valley fireworks show was canceled for the third consecutive year because of drought conditions. For Flagstaff in northern Arizona, the city canceled its fireworks display due to fire concerns, but a laser show will follow its annual Independence Day parade downtown.
Vyas of USC said that this is the silver lining. There are a lot of environmental concerns over these large-scale fireworks shows, “so this might be an opportunity for cities to experiment with different types of celebrations instead of pyrotechnics celebration,” he said.
For those cities that have canceled their fireworks shows, people will be more likely to purchase commercially sold fireworks and celebrate at home. Farnsworth of the National Fireworks Association provides some safety tips.
“Have a bucket of water or hose nearby. Remember sparklers can burn at pretty high temperatures so put them in a bucket when you finish,” he said, “and finally, don’t mix alcohol and fireworks.”